A photo exhibition titled “Our Portraits, Our Families” was unveiled June 13 at the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA). The monthlong exhibition presents photos that capture the loving and tender moments in multigenerational Asian families. To a community whose culture reveres filial piety, these may be common scenes in many households. But to the families featured in the photos, a moment like this takes a lot of effort to reach because they all have to learn to accommodate their lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) members. And they all realize love is the only possible umbrella after turbulent emotional storms.
The exhibition is presented by Asian Pride Project, a program initiated by Asian lesbian advocate organization Q-Wave and Gay Asian and Pacific Islander Men of New York, to help families go through the “coming out” process and accept their LGBTQ members, and to break the stigma the community places on LGBTQ people.
The program invites parents, relatives and friends of Asian LGBTQ members to post their articles and videos on its website (asianprideproject.org) to share their stories and show their support. Since the website’s inception last May, more than a dozen people have participated.
The exhibition is part of the effort of “involving the families.” The organizers invited five professional photographers to document the lives of five families as well as shoot portraits for four Asian LGBTQ role models including Chinese-American chef Anita Lo and Chinese-American designer Peter Som. The family portraits focus on LGBTQ couples enjoying life with their parents and relatives.
Aries Liao of the Asian Pride Project who helped organize the exhibition said it was not easy to recruit families. Although more and more Asian families have accepted their LGBTQ members, to open their lives to the public is another story. The organizers spent a few months zooming in on the five families who were willing to participate. And the photographers sometimes had to spend three days with the family in order to get a satisfactory shot.
Liao said many Asian LGBTQ people are hesitating on the issue of coming out, worried their parents won’t accept it. That’s why Asian Pride Project chose to approach families in order to fight against the cultural taboo. That’s also the reason for choosing MOCA as the venue for the exhibition. “This is the heart of Chinatown. We hope the exhibition can send out a message to Chinese parents: Please give more love to LGBTQ children.”
Ka-Man Tse, a Chinese-American photographer who participated in the exhibition, took her own family in her lens. She said she came out to her parents as a lesbian when she was 16, and they refused to face it in the beginning. Now the 32-year-old photographer is married to her partner. Her parents have gradually changed through the years and started to digest the fact that they now have one more “daughter.” In Tse’s photos, her wife goes shopping with her parents and the family enjoys a hearty dinner together.
For those who are struggling on the “coming out” issue, Tse offers her advice: “Coming out is a must. You cannot hide away for your whole life. The parents would feel hurt first, then shame, then guilt, and after all that, they may start to accept you. It takes a long time. But you have to let them know you love them, and without their love you won’t possibly have a happy life.”